The Colorado State University College of Health and Human Sciences has launched a new graduate student scholarship fund to address financial barriers for students who need to enroll in preliminary graduate coursework in order to gain provisional admission into master’s degree programs.
The new Gateway Scholarship will assist students who do not already qualify for what is called provisional admission by the CSU Graduate School. Students admitted provisionally might be very close to the recommended 3.0 GPA, and have significant work or life experiences since their undergraduate years that indicate they are more ready to embark on a master’s program. Provisionally admitted students have a probationary semester within their programs to show they can succeed.
Path to Graduate School admission
For applicants who don’t meet the recommended 3.0 GPA, many might not yet have had the work or other life experiences to show they are ready for graduate study, which can be a big life adjustment. For these students, who are initially denied admission, there is an alternate process to provisional admission, in which they enroll in six graduate credits (two courses) as a transition period to learning how to be successful in graduate-level work.
Students earning a 3.0 or higher GPA in these six credits may reapply, and are then more likely to be provisionally accepted into the program of their choice. In addition, while completing the six credits (which count toward a degree), applicants can gain confidence and have the opportunity to adjust aspects of their lives, such as work hours and childcare, to support their degree completion.
This is where a graduate student scholarship such as the Gateway Scholarship aims to have a huge impact. Administrators in CSU’s School of Social Work recognized a financial barrier existed for low-income applicants. Six credit hours of graduate coursework can cost thousands of dollars, and taking courses outside of a degree program typically is not covered by financial aid.
“The Gateway Scholarship is to recognize that some students can’t afford the six credits,” said Professor David MacPhee, interim director of the School of Social Work and a Department of Human Development and Family Studies professor emeritus, who provided the initial funding for the scholarship through a donation. “It gives low-income students admitted to our master’s programs a fairer shot at pursuing their dream of earning a graduate degree.”
MacPhee, looking back, says he learned the value of supporting students financially because he is also a first-generation student from a low-income family.
“My parents could not provide any support for my graduate education, so I worked the night shift as an aide in a psychiatric hospital, while taking 15 graduate credits during the day and getting by on two meals a day and five hours of sleep,” said MacPhee. “It was a lesson in the need for providing opportunities for capable and motivated students.”
Aiming for equity in admitting underrepresented graduate students
After joining the School of Social Work as interim director in July 2020, MacPhee began working together with Amy Martonis, the director of the Master of Social Work program, on equitable admission processes and alternative routes to admission for students who demonstrate a strong capacity for graduate level success.
As part of the College’s broader efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, Martonis had already been working to admit individuals by identifying success indicators in applications beyond undergraduate GPA—an approach that included more BIPOC, first-generation, and low-income applicants.
“It has become undeniably evident that undergraduate GPA is not the sole predictor of capacity for success in graduate studies,” said Martonis, who is herself a first-generation graduate.
“The School of Social Work now uses an innovative and successful admissions holistic review process,” added MacPhee, “and thus is more equitable in admitting underrepresented students.”
“For those who have been denied admission, the recommendation that applicants complete six credits of graduate coursework is an opportunity to show readiness for a reapplication,” said MacPhee. “We are launching the Gateway Scholarship out of concern that this is a barrier for many applicants.”
“This has huge implications for how we are contributing not only to higher education,” Martonis said, “but to the future fabric of society, by who we are inviting to train for various professions.”
Graduate student scholarship aims to open a “gateway” through systemic barriers
Historically, MSW program applicants of color have been disproportionately impacted by the financial barriers in the requirement to complete six credits with a 3.0 GPA, to show readiness for graduate study.
MacPhee and Martonis approached Colleen Webb, associate dean of the CSU Graduate School, who suggested the graduate student scholarship. Webb was supportive of the work to prioritize the admission of underrepresented students by identifying more graduate success indicators that invite inclusive practices.
“Application criteria and barriers must be reexamined,” said Webb. “The MSW program has taken strong steps that I hope will inspire other graduate programs at CSU and in all higher education institutions. The Gateway Scholarship invites further diversity and inclusion. It allows for a transitional learning period that we know is important to student success—and, importantly, their wellbeing—while removing a financial burden that directly impacts students. Awardees will build confidence and begin the foundation of a smooth transition to the rigors of graduate education.”
“This Gateway Scholarship is one step forward in diminishing systemic racism in higher education by providing a point of access for applicants,” said Martonis, “to demonstrate they can be successful in graduate-level classes.”
“My hope is that the CHHS Gateway Scholarship permits at least a few aspiring Health and Human Sciences professionals to be able to work their way into their chosen graduate program with some financial stress alleviated,” said MacPhee.
Open to graduate student applicants of all CHHS graduate programs
With a commitment to the principles of equity and inclusive excellence, the College of Health and Human Sciences offers a wide variety of master’s programs that promote the health and well-being of people, their environments, and communities in which they live.
Thanks to MacPhee’s lead gift, funding is currently available for all students in the College who qualify for the scholarship. If you would like to make a gift to support the Gateway Scholarship, please access the online giving page to contribute to the fund.